The NBA's newest team, the Charlotte Bobcats, positioned itself to obtain one of the premier players available in Thursday's draft by acquiring the second overall pick from the Los Angeles Clippers yesterday.
Under the terms of the trade, Charlotte, which will play its first game this fall, obtained the No. 2 pick and Clippers center Predrag Drobnjak in exchange for the Bobcats' first-round pick (No. 4 overall) and second-round pick (No. 33).
Meantime, published reports have the Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets agreeing on a trade to send Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard and Tyronn Lue to the Rockets for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and Kelvin Cato. However, if one of the players is taken in today's expansion draft, the deal can't be made as structured.
Bobcats General Manager Bernie Bickerstaff had said that he wanted to move up in the draft order to ensure that the club obtained one of the draft's two top players, widely considered to be Connecticut's Emeka Okafor and high school senior Dwight Howard.
"We are trying to build our team with the best possible players," Bickerstaff said in a prepared statement. "And being able to pick second in the draft exemplifies our commitment to accomplishing that goal."
Okafor, a 6-foot-9 center-forward, led the Huskies to an NCAA championship this year and Howard, a 6-11 power forward, won this year's Naismith award as the nation's top prep player. The Magic will choose first in the draft and has not said who it will select.
Charlotte's first-round draft pick is crucial to a team that will draw some of its squad in the expansion draft. The 29 other teams are required to leave all but eight of their players available to the Bobcats. While this may sound like a deep well from which to draw, many of the potential draftees are little-used reserves or are considered by their teams to be overpaid underachievers, according to many NBA executives.
The Bobcats will select about 15 players in the expansion draft and only a few of those are expected to make the opening day roster. Bickerstaff is expected to fill out his team via trades and free agent signings.
That means whoever the Bobcats choose in the first round of the regular draft will likely become the foundation for the team's inaugural season.
By obtaining the Clippers' pick, the Bobcats dashed the hopes of the Atlanta Hawks, who have said they wanted to acquire Howard, a native of Atlanta. The Hawks had hoped that Howard could do for them what LeBron James did for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season. After signing James with the first pick last year, the Cavaliers saw ticket and merchandise sales skyrocket.
For the Clippers, the No. 2 pick was expendable because the club believed it could draft the player it wants at No. 4, said Elgin Baylor, the team's vice president of basketball operations, in a statement.
Los Angeles needs a point guard and is said to greatly value high school senior Shaun Livingston, a 6-6 player who averaged 18 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists during his final year at Peoria (Ill.) Central High School. Livingston, who worked out for the Washington Wizards last week, was due to undergo a similar evaluation by the Clippers' coaching staff this week.
By trading away Drobnjak, who averaged 6.3 points and 3.2 rebounds in 61 games last season, the Clippers cleared space under the salary cap to go after free agents, presumably including Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant.